Q: Every fall I start to crave “comfort” soups—any suggestions for easy, tasty soups that will help me avoid off-season weight gain?
A: One thing I love about making soups is that you don’t have to really follow a recipe. After a season of analyzing mileage, pace, distance, power, etc., it’s refreshing (at least for me), to be able to go into the kitchen and just cook for fun. As long as you have a general plan, you can use what you have on hand and usually end up with a great-tasting meal. In addition, soups are a great way to pack in lots of high-fiber, low-calorie veggies and beans, which make it easy to stay healthy and maintain your weight, even when training volume is at its lowest of the year. And due to the high water content in soup, using it as a starter can help you eat fewer total calories without even trying—another great off-season trick!
In part because of their amazing immunity-boosting properties but also because they just taste so delicious, I make a lot of squash and pumpkin soups. I use whichever squash my local farmers’ market has each week, but love butternut for its thin skin and ease of peeling, acorn for its moist, sweet taste, kabocha for its nutty flavor and long “shelf life,” and of course pumpkins (because what else can we do with them after Halloween?).
For a delicious squash soup, start with two medium-sized squash. Cut them in half, remove the seeds and bake them in the oven, cut-side down in a roasting pan with water, until soft. Remove from oven, let cool, then purée in a food processor with 2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock or skim milk (or a mix). From there, add cinnamon and nutmeg or shallots and 1–2 tablespoons of butter as desired to change the taste or match the rest of your meal. However you slice it (pun intended), you’ll end up with a low-calorie and delicious soup that delivers more than 400 percent of your daily value of immune-boosting vitamin A, 50 percent of vitamin C, 2 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein per 1.5 cup serving.
Bean-based soups make for a great, filling source of slowly digesting carbs, and at only 120 calories per half cup, beans provide a whopping 8 grams of protein and 7.5 grams of fiber. Couple this with all the vegetables you can pack in, and it’s a home run for off-season nutrition. Start with two cans of fire-roasted (organic, if possible) crushed tomatoes. Add black or pinto beans, corn, chopped onion and any vegetables you like (peppers and mushrooms work well). Finish it off with fresh garlic (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder), and 1–2 tablespoons chili powder for kick. Top with a dollop of Greek yogurt and enjoy a filling, low-calorie off-season meal that is sure to please everyone in your family. You can also make a meat chili by sautéing lean turkey, beef or bison meat with a little olive oil and onion until cooked through, then proceed with all the steps above.
Lauren Antonucci, R.D., is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, three-time Ironman and founding director of Nutrition Energy in NYC.
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